AVERY COUNTY — The Blizzard of ‘93 was a historic winter storm that affected many parts of the eastern United States. The storm occurred from March 12 to 14, 1993, and brought heavy snow, strong winds and extremely cold temperatures to the High Country region. Yet its effects lasted more than three days.
Strong, chilling winds led to the blowing and drifting of snow, which caused power outages and extensive property damage. The winds produced by the light pressure gradient across the Tennessee Valley at the outset of the event supplied cold air that dropped the surface temperature, turning rain into snow through the day on Friday, with moderate snow reported at lower elevations like the Tri-Cities in Tennessee. The inverted trough lingered over the region, enhancing rising motions and intensity of snowfall. Instability underneath the upper level trough also contributed to the snowfall intensity, playing a role in creating convective snow bands with high snowfall rates topping more than an inch per hour.
Avery County received some of the highest snowfall amounts in North Carolina during the storm. The town of Banner Elk, for instance, received 30 inches of snow, while other areas of the county received up to 40 inches of snow.
Dropping temperature was an issue as Banner Elk experienced -9 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Weather Service. Wind chills were even colder, with some areas experiencing wind chills as low as -50 degrees Fahrenheit. The heavy snow and cold temperatures caused significant impacts in Avery County. But what does this mean?
In terms of climate trends, the Blizzard of ‘93 was an extreme weather event that was likely influenced by a number of factors, including atmospheric circulation patterns, sea surface temperatures and moisture availability.
The March 1993 storm was measured as having a 960 mb low pressure, a comparable barometric pressure to that of a high-end Category 2 hurricane, illustrating how extremely low the pressure was and indicative of a potent storm.
It is important to note that extreme weather events are influenced by natural variability in the climate system and not a single source, as many factors come into play when talking about the weather. To get a better understanding, Dr. Baker Perry, professor of geography at Appalachian State University, shares insight on the occurrence.
“The Blizzard of ’93 was historic in many respects, but three are particularly noteworthy. As the storm intensified rapidly over the Carolinas and tracked to the northeast on 13 March, there were numerous reports of thunder as winds shifted to the northwest and snowfall rates increased.” Baker said. Additionally, Dr. Perry addressed the multiple factors that come into play.
“The heaviest snowfall coincided with strong low-level northwest flow, exceptionally strong large-scale lift, and deep moisture that rarely occur simultaneously or especially for very long periods,” he said.
Dr. Perry also noted that the storm occurred at the end of a relatively lackluster winter, as the necessary ingredients came together nearly perfectly in time and space for a truly memorable event.
Weather conditions leading up to the storm were characterized by multiple factors, including a large low-pressure system that developed over the Gulf of Mexico and moved northeastward. This low-pressure system merged with another system over the southeastern United States, resulting in a powerful storm that brought heavy snowfall to the East Coast.
The storm caused approximately $5.5 billion in damages ($11.5 billion in 2022 dollars), according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. The storm also led to the deaths of 270 people across 13 states.
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